Baffinland exceeded dust impact projections for 3 straight years: QIA

Association’s regulatory affairs department shares results from a dust investigation with board members for first time Thursday

Dust spread from Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River mine project is worse than expected, says QIA. (File photo)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The spread of dust caused by Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River mine is larger than predicted and is impacting drinking water, wildlife and sea ice in the surrounding area, says a Qikiqtani Inuit Association manager.

Regulatory affairs manager Chris Spencer presented three years’ worth of reports to the association’s board members for the first time Thursday. The reports summarize an investigation, launched in 2020, into how dust spread from the mine is affecting the environment and Inuit culture.

QIA found foxes near the mine that were “deeply discoloured red” and acting strangely; that dust spread was worse than what Baffinland had predicted it would be each year; and that water in several locations had surpassed national drinking water safety guidelines for aluminium content.

“The issue is due to the amount of dust, how far the dust is travelling, impacts to the surrounding environment, Inuit culture and wildlife, and the fact that Baffinland has so far not been able to effectively mitigate all of these impacts,” Spencer said.

“Baffinland also does not recognize the impact to Inuit, what level of dust is acceptable to Inuit.”

Baffinland spokesperson Peter Akman said the company agrees dust spread is worse than predicted, but that those predictions were made nearly 10 years ago.

Even still, he said, metals from the dust are not accumulating in the environment.

“Baffinland has been conducting metals sampling in soil, vegetation and fish tissues in the area and can objectively state that metals are not accumulating in the environment that would pose a threat to humans or wildlife,” he wrote in an email.

“Baffinland is constantly looking at improvements to reduce dust generation as we acknowledge that visible dust on the land can create an undesirable impact.”

The investigation began in 2020 and expanded each year afterward.

Some Pond Inlet residents travelled to the land around the Mary River project to collect evidence of the dust impact, such as gathering samples of ice and snow by digging through layers.

In 2020 alone, QIA found dust spread was worse than what Baffinland predicted it would be in 14 of 16 areas.

“The dust is spreading across the sea ice. This has been observed by hunters and travellers from the community of Mittimatalik [Pond Inlet] and is very concerning,” Spencer said.
“It is changing the characteristics of the ice.”

In 2021, QIA travelled to 20 locations for samples and sent them to a southern lab.

In several locations, dust levels exceeded national health guidelines for fish, the results showed. It found caribou could face “adverse impacts” if they ate snow that had dust on it.

In 2022, QIA travelled to 24 locations, took dust samples from snow and checked it against national safety levels for water and wildlife. Again, the amount of dust was above Baffinland’s predictions for the year, Spencer said, and several samples that were taken close to cabins exceeded the national drinking water guidelines.

For example, aluminium levels were higher than recommended in five of 22 locations for livestock, six of 22 for water and at least 16 of 22 for fish.

The amount of dust decreased as QIA got further from the mine project, meaning that it is the source of the dust, Spencer said.

QIA member-at-large Liza Ningiuk said she’s seen ptarmigan and foxes that are discoloured, and wondered if QIA has any results on how the dust may be affecting animals.

The foxes QIA found were given to a Government of Nunavut wildlife officer to be sampled, and it is awaiting the GN’s response, Spencer said.

Jared Ottenhof, QIA’s lands and resource director, said one specialist he spoke to said there’s a concern of bio-accumulation.

“So as one animal eats another animal, it takes on not only its own absorption of dust, but the animal it eats as well,” he said. “You start to see this chain reaction happen.”

If it is found that the wildlife is contaminated, Ottenhof said it can be compensated through the wildlife compensation fund.

Qikiqtani Inuit Association staff and board members met in an Aqsarniit hotel conference room this week for their board of directors and annual general meetings. (Photo by David Venn)

Baffinland agrees to mitigate dust impacts


Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal recently approved Baffinland’s application to increase its shipping limit from 4.2- to six million tonnes in 2022.

Part of that approval came because Baffinland and QIA reached an agreement on a number of commitments to protect the environment, 23 of which relate directly to dust impacts, Ottenhof said.

The company has agreed to build wind fences, use more dust suppressants and make changes to the terrestrial working group, which will value Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or traditional knowledge, such as these reports, and western science, he said.

Ottenhof said a recommendation made in the working group is one that Baffinland has to follow, though there’s no exact consequence outlined if it doesn’t.

“As far as consequences go, it’s essentially up to dispute resolution,” he said. “So there’s no fixed set of steps right now.”

Overall, QIA is happy with Baffinland’s commitments, Ottenhof said.

Akman said there are 37 commitments specific to dust mitigation that arose from the most recent permit approval.

Some of these are in direct response to these reports, which QIA shared with Baffinland.

The company is also participating in a dust audit, carried out by Nunammi Stantec Ltd., which will be reviewed by community representatives from the five potentially affected communities on north Baffin Island, Akman said.

“Although monitoring results to date indicate no long-term negative effects of dustfall on vegetation, aquatic environments, marine environments, wildlife or human health, Inuit have identified the presence of dustfall as an effect in itself,” he said.

“The visibility of dust on snow or in drinking water affects Inuit perceptions regarding the esthetics and quality of the environment.”

However, Ottenhof said, Inuit should be the decisionmakers on how much dust is too much.

“As long as Inuit are seeing impacts from dust, there needs to be stronger mitigations,” he said in an interview.

The information QIA gathered is useful because it can now be considered by the Nunavut Impact Review Board for future expansion plans at the mine, Ottenhof said.

One of the next steps will be to share the information with the communities, he added.


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(19) Comments:

  1. Posted by Indoor Crusher on

    If I’m not mistaken doesn’t Phase 2 already cover Dust Mitigation? They want to build an indoor crusher, but the investment required means they need to increase the volume coming out of the mine to do so.

    At least the MIA organization is doing something for a change. Oops I meant QIA

    • Posted by Browneman on

      Response to crusher…MIA …that would be the former President of qia that has been MIA,throughout this whole BIM ordeal..what’s his name PJ..poor job..Akeeagok…Now your President or Resident of Nunavut…Again MIA…When are they gonna grow some spine and deal with real issues that plague Nunavut..That also includes your Iqaluit MP The Liberal Lori…The so called Leaders and Elected ones need to stop grandstanding in media and start listening to people in communities about things that really matter..that also includes the spectecle that the NTI president of the Lyon fiasco

  2. Posted by Pete on

    ill be the one to say it… Duh

  3. Posted by Zero Comments on

    I am finding it hard to believe how quiet this comments section is. This must tell us something about who writes in to Nunatsiaq.

    • Posted by Narrative Control on

      No, it’s the editors or whomever it is that approves comments. They take their sweet time for some reason. Note how many stories have been closed for comments recently as well. The manipulation around who gets to speak and who doesn’t is troublesome. Control the narrative, control the world, as they say…

  4. Posted by Truestory on

    Them foxes go thru garbage bins. Even if it’s unaccessible to a fox. Somehow they manage to get into it. It learns that in garbage they’ll be some food reside. These foxes were problem foxes for the O H.T. drivers at Baffinland. Them foxes got used to the truckers. And not afraid of us humans anymore. They stick around where garbage is. Baffinland tries it’s best to deter wildlife. I work up there. First hand experience.

  5. Posted by Dusty on

    That’s how it will be for the life of the mine. After the company gets the product they will just leave. We’ll be left with no work, dirty land and sea. So obvious.

  6. Posted by snapshot on

    Where’s all the commentors that usually post Baffinland topics all the time? Probably with different names.

    Quiet comment section is deafening!

    No narwhals, no seals, no caribou, no fish, just ugly environmental mess with no form of compensating Pond Inlet people who are the most affected of all the people in Canada!

  7. Posted by Piitaqanngi on

    The pro-development folks are indeed silent. All they seem to care about is jobs.

    Although Baffinland will be expected to follow the recommendations is the Working Group, it will have no obligations to follow through on any of them. Especially if the recommendations will negatively impact it’s production. It’s mitigation measures are a joke. They look good on paper. That’s all they needed in order for NIRB to come up with a positive recommendation for the increase. That and threats of job loss. The affected communities seemed to have fallen for those threats. So did the Federal Minister.

    • Posted by Observer on

      NIRB did not provide a positive recommendation for an increase. They rejected the proposed Phase 2, and they rejected the increase in production from 4 to 6 million tonnes a year when it was first proposed a few years ago, but the minister in Ottawa overruled them, so they’ve had to deal with that ever since.

  8. Posted by John K on

    “Although monitoring results to date indicate no long-term negative effects of dustfall on vegetation, aquatic environments, marine environments, wildlife or human health, Inuit have identified the presence of dustfall as an effect in itself,” he said.

    “The visibility of dust on snow or in drinking water affects Inuit perceptions regarding the esthetics and quality of the environment.”

    Ok. Thanks for looking into this.


    • Posted by BaffinIsland Resident on

      Our communities have been dumping raw sewage into our waters and large amount of garbage debirs from the dumps have been blowing to the ice and water for decades now and whenever the dump is bruned, the large toxic somke from the dump is visible from our homes. Do something about this too.

  9. Posted by Taxpayer on

    There is no reason to quibble over how bad higher than predicted dust from an Iron Mine is for Inuit and the lands Inuit own. And this is not an issue for the NIRB on impact assessment. This is a matter of managing impacts being seen from an operating and approved development. If the QIA wants to become a regulator of such things, they have the power to put in place a set of environmental regulations that would be applicable to the Inuit Owned Lands they manage. These rules could be as strict as they want them to be, with a set of consequences including kicking the company out. Ok, be the decision makers. Clearly set the bar on environmental performance, QIA. There is nothing stopping you. QIA has not done that, and it is doubtful they will. Telling Inuit that they want to have this role is in reality, confusing. The reasons for this is that the dust is fairly benign for the environment, it is mainly an aesthetic issue (as acknowledged), and there are already very robust laws in place for such things. The Government of Canada is the real, existing regulator. Newsflash: Canadian government agencies and departments have laws about environmental protection. They have not charged the company with breaking laws or forced the operation to stop. Is that because there is low environmental harm, or because the enforcement people are not doing their jobs? It is high time these folks waded in. When was the last time Environment Canada did a series of public meetings in the impacted communities to explain what the law of the land says, what actions they have in place, and how they are enforcing their laws to make the company comply? This is obviously of very high public interest. Those truly responsible must become more accountable.

    • Posted by G-man Choi on

      I agree with you 100% Taxpayer, it is time for Environment Canada to let everyone know what is going on, so all this “quibbling” will end finally.

    • Posted by No. on

      NIRB has legal responsibility for follow-up and monitoring. This is definitely an issue for NIRB.

  10. Posted by Bob Lee on

    Phase 2, building railroad could severely reduce dust and carbon emission from Mary River to Milne Inlet but the increase of ships on Baffin Bay will reduce marine mammals as well. Maybe ban cruise ships and have only Baffinland ships on Baffin Bay during life of the mine.

  11. Posted by Pat on

    Has anyone in this comment section read the reports released by QIA? ALL samples from 2020 were rendered unusable due to poor sampling methods. No in person training was given to the samplers and no sampling protocol was provided. There is no mention of decontaminating equipment between sampling locations. All samples collected near the Project were collected downwind in areas with the highest dust concentrations, which are not representative of the Project in its entirety. In situ measurements are being compared to flowing water bodies. Samples were collected in May, after dust had all winter to accumulate on the snow, and in areas with longest residence times. No quality control samples were collected. There is no mention of whether samples exceeded hold times or were received by the lab at appropriate temperatures. This entire study was poorly designed and is not comparable to any other studies at the mine, or representative of correct dustfall deposition rates.

  12. Posted by JT on

    I oversaw the chemical data for the mine. Our alumina content within the deposit was extremely low – a fraction of a percent. I’m surprise this was flagged in the sampling regime and I wonder what the baseline data were before the mine went into production. Also, if a region of the pit happened to have elevated alumina concentrations, it is significantly less dense than iron meaning visible dust does not indicate alumina has also travelled that far causing me to question if the samples are simply indicating a local, and different, source.

  13. Posted by Captain Obvious on

    Cover the top of the trucks barrelling down the tote road. Tarp them. That’s a easy obvious repair. Control the dust

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